The last city of the Renaissance? The city of the
Well, in Istambul time has another dimension and in the long sunsets of tea and carpets,
old people like tellling the story of the birth of the city according to the advise of the
God Apolo in front of the country of the blind people.
by the Fenicians, Cretans and the Classic Greek; the Oriental Roman Empire made
it its capital, Bizancio, as so did the Ottoman Empire, being, that way, the
only city that has been capital of a Christian and Muslim Empire, too, almost
1600 years, in total. It´s a jewel for the Turkish people who pronounce its name
emphasizing its second silabe, IsTAM bul, and who describe it as an owner of
History, and with a great future. It´s also a universal jewel, "one of the
cities best viewed from the outspace", have said several astronauts, in a phrase
which, no doubt, has also a symbolic value.
spreath of the city is not well known, as its life, the life of the wealthy
bussinessmen, whose houses rest by the banks of the Bosforo, the life of office
workers and shoppers who live in the cute city, with its new suburbs; but there
also are dreamers who come from Anatolia, the Mountains of Taurus, Kurdistan,
and hope to have the chance to offer the tourists their stalls, or a journey
through the Bosforo on a small ship.A city that never sleeps, whose heart beats
by the waters, by the thousands of shops and restaurants, the big Bazard, or the
district of the mosques in the weekend. And the tradition of the comerce on the
route of the caravans. A deligthfull view.
The amount of tourists that como daily to the city is huge, and, therefore,
in the begining of 2000 a new airport was built, marvellous, in glass and steel, lat
technology. However, the flote of Turkish Airlines is limited, as the rest of the
infraestructure of the counry. There are lots of charter companies, such as Alfa Airlines:
if you have any trouble, as with your luggage, you can start looking for the best
detective agency.... Respecting to hotels, if you are not a conformist, you´d better see
what you book, or invest your money properly in the more stars you can...
Thousands of yellow cabs? Even more "dolmus", taxis with a concrete
route? Anyway, you will be able to find easily a way of transport, anywhere and at any
Streetcar? A circular route to the old city, with air conditioning, the best Eastern tram,
at least as far as the Japanesse frontier. Up the Istiklal, jumping to the other side of
the Gold Horn, through the old strees of the embasses, today the protagonist of the night.
Appropiate for young and old, you´d better ask first, or you can pay so much for a beer
in a typical pub... The landscape from the Galata Tower and several terraces is so
The train station of Sirkeci. Old city. The Orient Spress used to come up to here, and
with a bit of imagination, you can see Mata Hari going on the train, or the tram, or
taking a taxi to somewhere...
In Istiklal street, ask about
pubs as Baraka, Barcelona or Beyoglu. Pay spaecial atention to the music shops; there are
pubs just over them, or other places of joy, valuable by each one.
Beyouglu Galatasaray, and down the street, Çiçek Pasage, a quite decadent galery, or a
market of restaurants compeating among them, of an acceptable level and really low prices;
your table neighbour can be from anywhere in the world, and will be pleased to chat with
Sultanahmet, in the old city, is the zone
of the old restaurants, and shabby hotels. Are you an open-minded person, and want to meet
a curious person? ask about "Free Willy" in Ozler Restaurant, 29 Ibni Kemal
Street, an enjoyable place, absolutely legal, and where anything can take place.You will
have dinner for a cheap price, always you get on well with Taskin, (he loves women´s
presence and the modern phone cells). Kumkapi, in the bottom of Sultanahmet, was an old
neighbourhood of fishermen, nowadays a restaurant zone; some of them in fields won to the
sea, others by the water; all of them compiting for your attention, but always in a
friendly way, so, it´s worthy negociating the prices before taking seat.
Eminonu, the quay; from here
the ships go in a concrete pri ce and route to the Bosforo, the Asian side, and also for
free journeys, in different prices, depending on the number of people, and cheaper when
the time of departure is nearer. Depending on the day and time, you will also find
fishermen selling their fishes, too.
Once on the ship, an obligated destiny will be the northern route through
the Bosforo, 32km till the Black Sea. On the way you will sea bathers in the corners,
hiding of the strong currents that the difference of saltyness and temperature create. In
front of the castle of Rumeli Hisan, the narrower part, the speed of water approaches
10km/h. This deffensive castle built in 1452 in three months, is used in summer for giving
concerts with fantastic views to the strait or the hanging bridges.
The isles of the Princes or Red Isles are in the south entrance to the Bosforo, whose name
comes from the Byzantine times, being place for retire or exile for princes and high
society in general. Nowadays, they still play this role, and some of them are unaccesible,
since they are private. One hour and a half from the Sirkeci quay, the beaches, sun and
fish restaurants are of an excellent cuality in Buyukada or Linaliada, while, if you
manage to get to Sivriada or Tavsan Adasi, you will enjoy the loneliness of a shipwrecked.
in the town, you must visit the both Bazaars, a nice view for your eyes, but
also the Las Vagas of comerce: do your shopping, ladies and gentlemen! Your
money is ours! Patience and negotiation are the trick. The Big Bazaar, 3000
shops? It´s the biggest establishment of this kind nowadays, with more than 1000
shops dedicated exclusively to carpets, and the near Bazaar of Spices has lost
quite a big part of the locals that gave it this name, just because, if at the
times of caravans this products were the most important ones, today jeweleries
From a side to the other,
in the surroundings of the University, through Divan Yolu Avenue, almost all the alleys
conform a huge market, in which anything can be sold, from clothes an leather, to antiques
or carpets, hairdressers, beggars, policemen, tourist-faced spies...
How long are you staying in this fantastic city? Let´s enjoy it! We will suggest you the
best monuments and places.
Note about mosques: in general, you will have to pay for entering, for men, long trousers
are indispensable, and for women, it´s necessary to wear the head covered, and
"appropiate" clothes. Don´t worry, you will be provided with all this in the
entrance, and you will find yourselves really funny. Respect the praying hours and leave
your shoes where indicated. Photos are allowed, sometimes qithout flash.
1- Let´s star from the begining. The walls built between 412 and 442 in
Bizancio by Teodosio II, and which surrounded the whole city, can be seen everywhere,
maybe with the most relevant point in Yedikule, between Kenedy Caddesi and Belgradkapisi,
where, after conquerring the city, Mehmet added this 7-tower-castle to the original Aurus
Tower of 390. (Pay entrance) However, this magnific watchtower over the city and the
Marmara Sea was one time place of torture of sultanate, as happened to Osman II, who died
hanged, but after having his testicles smashed. We can find a variety of skulls in the
well, that some time belonged to many tortured people, always of the high society. There
is a two-arched aqueduct, dated on IVth century in the park of Sehzade Avenue.
2- The "Little Saint
Soffie" or Kücük Ayasofhia Camii, is the oldest religious centre in the city,
originally a Byzantine church built by Antemio Tralles on behalf of Justiniano Emperor, so
we can see on the columns his name, her wife´s, Theodora, and St Sergio´s (patron saint)
in the poems in Greek on the first cornice.The octogonal ground plant, the basic
decoration, the curious cornices and capitals are original, as the rests of mosaics and
marbles of the walls, that survived to earthquakes and its reformation to a mosque in
1510. Hüseyin Agä, boss of the black eunuches of the sultan, rebuilts the vaults and
their decoration, appart from adding the out arcade. Don´t take a bad impression of the
building from the outside first sight, (in fact, the restoration should begin in 2000),
and don´t leave if you find it closed, because there is always a servicial member of the
staff responsible for receiving visitors, who, moreover, will sure ask for a good tip for
showing you the whole zone.
33- St Soffie or Ayasofhia
Basilic, jewel of antique. You are in front of the last chance to see, touch, understand
what big constructions were in the classic Rome, latest, Byzantine, and so, the only big
building of a great civilization, that has thoroughly survived. It was built by Antemio
from Trales and Isidoro from Mileto, begining in 532 and with a whole army of workers,
ended in 5 years time, running an errand of Justinian emperor, who, to complete the big
Constantinopla, was thinking about building the great temple of Christendom. Without a
doubt, the architects got it, starting from a simple basilic plan model, increased its
proportions based in walls and buttresses, which have been able to support on the huge
central vault and the strong earthquakes of the last centuries. A classic origin building
of a great strengh and lightness. The constructive system keeps on being
walls of stone, brick and mortar, covered with marble, cut in classic sizes, combinig
colours and place of origin. (White of the coast of Marmara, yellow of Libano, green of
the current Yugoslavia, and porphiry red from Egypt.) It took the time until XIIIth
century to cover the inside of the building, with the 15,000m2 of Roman tiles that
enlightened the temple in gold shine. Nowadays we can only find some samples or rests of
them, in the nartex, the high altar, or the right
side of the superior gallery, magnific images of Christis and the Virgin, of the Emperors
Contantine and Justinian, or St John Baptist.
When Mehmet II conquerred the city, he tries to islamiza it,
but this temple avoids a deep transformation, although the new religion makes the Roman
tiles desapear almost completely. Redecorated, the magnificence of its space and its light
makes the new mosques to take it as a model, as we can check in the route of the mosques
through the city.
Currently, Ayasofhia is not used in a religious sense, since it is now a museum, and its
restoration is being studied.
4- Sehzade Mehmet Camii (mosque).
Mimar Sinan (1490-1588) is the indispensable architect to understand and know about the
kind of Turkish mosques; of educated formation and always in the area of power, he
progresses linked to palace, achieveing the amount of 400 buildings constructed. But it´s
Sehzade his first relevant work, which he doesn´t begin until 1548, and we can see the
influence of Ayasofhia, in the general typology, the porticos and basilical plan, and also
in the will of releasing the walls to open wide spaces and get the magnific light effects.
Soleyman the Magnific orders the building (1520-66) and dedicates it to his early died son
(at 21), prince Mehmet.
success of the mosque makes Sinan definately architect of the sultan, by ways of
Mihrimah, the favourite daughter of the sultan, and her husband, Rustem Pasa.
For both them, although especially for her, Sinan builts the mosque Mihrimah
Sultan Camii, on which the model of Sinan reafirmates; the extraordinary
relevance he gives to the central turret of the big vault, remarked by a
delightful light, and relationated with the galeries as independent naves,
covered with smaller domes.
5- Rustem Pasa Camii- the mosque
of the visir husband of the sultan´s daughter, is a quite different sample to see a
mosque in what at that time it was already the comercial area of the city. The low flats
had to be used comercially, and the space available was not too much.
The architect builts in a much more human scale, the accesses lead to the first flat,
where the program develops, with a terrace for ablations and a double portico, in which
decoration deserves special attention.
The mosque can be seen from the Galata bridge, with the entrance on the back side, and
nearby the Bazaar of spices.
6- Süleymaniye Camii. Soleyman
the Magnific, the sultan who spreaded the limits of the Ottoman Empire almost to the
dimension of Bizance in the times of Justinian, asks Sinan what finally, will be the work
for posterity of both them, transforming the whole top part of the city to build an
enormous complex that through the centuries would be a city inside a city, a new Meca of
Islam. Surrounded by schools, charity centers, new comercial streetsan a huge
caravanseray, wellcoming centre for the camel-caravans coming from Orient. The sultan
provided the architect with 3000 people. Nowadays, the complex has been taken over by the
university, the caravanseray and the comercial zones; they are trying to recover some of
its lost splendor, and only the religious area keeps an appearance of what it once was;
walk on the cemetery and the sultanate´s small funerary halls.
In the mosque Sinan reproduces between 1550 and 59 again the model of the portico and
religious space, and now it responses to the same scale as in Mihrimah, with the turret
covered by the vault, and all the effects of light.This outside layout has an staggered
image, appropiate for the magnificence of the work, and its ubication over the hill,
emphasized with the four sculptured minaretes. Inside, architecture is protagonist,
without no more complements than the indispensable for use and worship, calligraphy of
Ahmet Karahisar, stained glass windows of Ibrahim Sarhos and marquetry of Ustad Ahmet´s
workshops, while the tiles of Iznit just only appear in the mihrab.
Yeni Camii, is an omnipresent presence, built between 1590 and 1663 in the model of
Sinan,; it´s particularly interesting the peculiar courtyard, and the house-building of
profuse decoration and of a not very religious use by the sultan. Although we will find
the inside very familiar an well-known, it doesn´t stop being interesting, and the visit
is obligated, since we will pass the building several times in our way, placed by Galata
bridge and the quay of Eminonü.
8- Sokullu Mehmet Pasa Camii is a
mosque in the complex area of Sultanahmet to Kumkapi, an interesting work of Sinan, full
of matturity. The big rectangle of the solar is realationed to the urban side through the
groundyard, withouth breaking the outside scale, with platforms and stairs. The portico,
with access to the worship area, rises the temple, and the inside plant baegins from the
turret to make an hexagon that covers the high vault, composing a galery, widing the
apparent inside dimension. The materials, predominatly white, contrast with the beautiful
Iznik tiles of the mihrab.
Built in almost a year, ordered by the visir that names the mosque, "the
foreigner", for his birth in the current Bosnia. His sailor formation leaded him to
become Fleed Admiral of the Ottoman, which, recovered from the desaster of the Battle of
Lepanto happened in the year of construction of the mosque, conquerred Tunez in 1574, what
gave him the post of first minister.
9- Sultanahmet Camii or the Blue mosque, built for his
dedication to Ahmet I between 1603 and 1617 by a disciple of Sinan, Mehmet Aga, it was an
expensive and complex whim of a young sultan who rised in the throne with 14 and died just
finished his mosque. There were also a charity centre and a caravanseray.
The construction of the mosque, near Topkapi, was an alternative of new building for
Ayasofhia and finish with was rest of the Byzantine hypodrom, centre of social life at the
time, and of which, today we have only the Egypcian obelisk, brought from Tebas by
Teodosio in 390 (it´s a third part of the original), the Column original from 479bC and
which is the rest of the body of three snakes coiled up, brought from the temple of Apolo
in Delfos by Constantine. And finally, the walled obelisk of unknown origin, although
emperor Constantine Porfirogeneto covered it with bronze at mid Xth century.
Emphasized the outside visual impression of the vault succession that come fromthe big
central piece. The workshops of palace worked hardly in the decoration; fromthe 21,043
tiles Iznik that still keep the flowery images that the mosque of Rustem Pasa
"invented", the more than 1,200m2 of carpet, or glasses brought from Czech
workshops. An exageration of which the chests of sultanate never got over.
10- Topkapi palace. Since
Mehmet the conquerror ordered to build on the rests of the Roman city a first palace,
appart from the oficial residence of the Ottoman sultans, this has been the administrative
seat of the empire, at leaast until Abdulhamid left it to move to Dolmabahçe. In the
shine times behind the 5km walls that surrounded Sarayi Cedide I Amireii, oficial name of
the Topkapi Sarayi (palace of the cannons), worked and lived 5000 people, and many others
approached daily as visitors, or to gestionate something, embassors, delegations...
Today, Topkapi receives more
than 1.5 million tourists in a year, attracted by the fame of the place and its huge
treasures. The truth is that most of them leave quite upset. Topkapi has more than 65,000
pieces in treasure, but only a little party of it can be seen, due to the lack of space or
whatever. Porcelain of the best origin, furnitures, clocks, silk suits, and specially,
precious stones, the famous Topkapi emerald dagger and the huge diamond of the "spoon
maker", but we musn´t forhet about Mehmet´s sword, armors, or the fingerprints,
hair and teeth of Mohammed (Mahoma), etc.
Well, this is not the treasure of the Tower of London, of the tsares, or the imperial
palace of Vien. In the same way, you musn´t hope to see an alternative to the european
palaces of the Bourbons.
Dolmabahçe Sarayi. This palace is the last foolish act of a decadent empire, and the
construction meant the ruin of the Ottoman wealth. Topkapi was by XIXth century an
anqtique place, which sultan Abdülmecit even hated, wishing a more appropiate residence,
adapted to the times and occidental fashions. With his rise in the throne he orders
Karabet Balyan the construction of a new palace in the fields won to the sea of
Dolmabahçe, where he moves the Court, once finished the works by Nicogos, son of the
previous architect. After the death of the sultan, his sucessors lived in different
palaces, and Dolmabahçe passed to be the residence for relevant visitors, receptions,
Once proclamed the Republic, it became residence of President Ataturk since 1927 to his
death in 1938. Nowadays it´s open to the public as a museum.
It is an eclectic building, little to do with the original models of the big european
monarchies, but with an inside power in its high rooms, the optic effects in the paintings
of the vaults, and the extravagance of the eastern Turkish marbles; the glass balustrade
of Baccarat became a new and exagerated fashion that spreaded through the palaces, and
even through europe. The principal furniture was encharged to the big London and
Parisinian firms, with no attention to costs.Gardens, and the presence of water in
fountains and ships in Bosforo, just through the windows are a delightful landscape.
12- Beylerbeyi Sarayi. Summer palace in the asian side, today
under one of the bridges of the Bosforo; the magnolia trees gardens and the own Bosforo
are again, a delicious landscape that surprises us once we have crossed the gate and the
long tunnel, which some day walked the cavalry.
Maybe the more french of the palaces, is also generally very well looked after, and the
guided visit will lead us in the two floors of it. The top floor, representative, the
selamlik, with decorations of naughty blue stuccos and amazing marquetry, sailor
paintings, typical of a sailor sultan. And at the bottom, the harem, the Baroque stairs,
of a beautiful view from the pool or the harem, or
the other one, in wood and in the west
side, the white marbles of the pool and its Bohem lamps.
As a curiosity, the private
room of the sultan, and those one he, himself, decorated for Eugenia de Montijo, the
Spanish wife of Napoleon III, whom the sultan met in Paris, and who came here by 1869, and
where she would return with 85 years, in a visit full of memories for a woman who would be
remembered as temperament, but romantic at the same time.
Many other places should be mentioned here, about this little paradise of the Bosforo, in
this huge city that begins in Europe, and ends in somewhere of Asia, and which keeps in
every corner those many people from extrange origins.